Parenting Magazine – “Q&A”

By Diane Neumann

Q. My husband and I are getting a divorce. We are not fighting over custody of our two children, but we are having a bitter disagreement over an antique bureau. Our oldest child, Jeremy, is upset and is having problems at school, yet everyone, including each of our lawyers, had advised us that as long as we are not having a custody battle, the children should be O. K. Is that true?A. Your question is an important one, and one that I can speak to confidently, based on experience and research. The advice, which “Everyone,” including your lawyer, is providing, is simply not accurate information. When parents engage in conflict–any kind of conflict–then children suffer. The expression of anger or bitterness toward your spouse can hurt your child. The way you act, and the feelings that you show, are actually more important than the words that you use. Resolve your dispute over the antique bureau. It will help the children.Q. My wife left me for another man. I don’t want to lie to my children–they’re ages 9 and 10–but I’m wondering of I’m bringing up her affair too much. Can you advise?A. Children really do need to respect both parents. If you are worried that you are bringing up your wife’s behavior “too much”, chances are you probably are. Try not to criticize your wife. Your children are very young; they will have plenty of time to hear about other people’s behavior and to judge it. Remember, your child has two parents; disparaging your spouse or ex-spouse is disparaging one-half of your child.Q. Every time my partner’s child–he’s 13–returns from a visit with his father, my partner asks him a lot of questions about his dad’s life. When I brought it up to my partner, she told me that of course it was okay because she’s the mother and needs that information to care for her son. I’m at a loss as to what to do.A. A child should not be cross-examined after a visit with a parent unless there are serious concerns regarding sexual or physical abuse of the child. Asking a child questions about a parent places the child in a difficult position in two important areas; first, he is conflicted as to which parent he owes allegiance to; and second, he feels guilt if he doesn’t or can’t protect a parent. It sounds as if your partner has not let go of her son’s father. Seeing a therapist could help her. If she refuses to see a therapist unless you accompany her, it’s preferable to her not getting any help from a professional.Q. I have full custody of my daughter, who is four year’s old. Her father and I were never married. He doesn’t see her much–only on Saturday afternoons. I’ve been offered a good job in another state. I keep getting a lot of advice about whether or not to take it. He suggested we see a mediator. Will a mediator make any decisions for us?A. This is a difficult question because a lot depends on the emotional bond between your daughter and her father now, and the bond, which may develop. I can’t judge the quality of that bond on the basis of visiting time, nor can I predict the importance of the bond in future years. My advice is that meet with your daughter’s father and a mediator. This is a difficult decision, get expert help. You are right to be concerned. A mediator does not make decisions. If she does, she is actually an arbitrator or judge. Instead, a mediator does something which is more valuable–she helps the couple to make decisions that each knows is fair. This informed decision-making component is one reason why mediated agreements have a high compliance rate.Originally published in Parenting Magazine

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